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InCHIP Award Supports Ph.D. Student Research on Heart Disease Prevention in U.S. African Immigrants

Health Promotion Sciences Ph.D. student Richard Bannor's dissertation aims to address the gap in research on heart disease prevention and immigration status among Black populations.

Globally, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and is a contributor to rising healthcare costs. In 2019, cardiovascular disease was the underlying cause of about one-third of all deaths globally.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that unhealthy eating habits are closely associated with the onset of heart disease.

Prior to moving to the United States, African immigrants are oftentimes healthier than Black Americans of the same age. However, the longer they live in the U.S., their risk of developing heart disease increases.

Exposure to an unhealthy food environment, sedentary lifestyle, discrimination, and increased stress, among other factors, can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease.

Image of Richard Bannor, recipient of InCHIP's Fisher Fellowship
Richard Bannor, Ph.D. student in CAHNR’s Health Promotion Sciences Doctoral Program

As part of his dissertation, Richard Bannor, a Ph.D. student in the Health Promotion Sciences program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is studying the barriers and facilitators impacting Africans immigrants’ exercise and diet habits in the U.S.

Bannor will facilitate focus groups and survey African immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa with overweight and obesity to understand their motivation to lose weight, barriers to healthy food and exercise, their nutrition knowledge, and diet acculturation. He will use this data to create a culturally tailored intervention to prevent cardiovascular disease among this population.

“Considering my experiences living in Africa and conducting studies in African settings, I want to focus my dissertation on cardiovascular disease prevention among African immigrants living in the United States to help bridge the health inequity gap in cardiovascular disease in this rapidly increasing population,” says Bannor, who was born in Ghana, West Africa and lived there until beginning his doctoral research training in January 2021.

Bannor, who also is a research assistant at UConn’s Center for mHealth and Social Media (CHASM), has been awarded the UConn Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy’s (InCHIP) Jeffrey D. Fisher Health Behavior Change Research Fellowship.

“InCHIP is thrilled to have received so many outstanding applications for our Fisher Fellowship and I am pleased to congratulate Richard on his excellent proposal,” says Tricia Leahey, InCHIP Director and professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. “His dissertation proposal is timely, innovative, and could offer valuable insights into how societal influences impact health outcomes.”

The Fisher Fellowship was established in 2019 to commemorate InCHIP’s founding Director and Board of Trustees Professor Emeritus of Psychology Jeffrey D. Fisher’s career. Each year, the fellowship awards $2,000 to one outstanding UConn graduate student writing their dissertation in the area of health behavior change research.

“Richard is an enormous asset to my lab, a fantastic team player, and a budding mentor. This funding will be important to help him carry out his aims as intended and it would reward the diligent effort he put into preparing an outstanding extramural grant applications, which few doctoral student do,” says Sherry Pagoto, Director of CHASM and professor in the department of Allied Health Sciences.

By evaluating the impact of immigration status, Bannor’s dissertation seeks to address a gap in the research literature concerning cardiovascular disease prevention among Black populations, which has historically excluded the effect of immigration status.

“Cultural perspective may affect weight, diet, and physical activity. Gold-standard lifestyle interventions may be unappealing to African populations and food preference may make it challenging to adhere to interventions. The complex interplay of cultural and lifestyle issues requires a culturally tailored lifestyle intervention for African immigrants living in the U.S.,” says Bannor.

It will also serve as the first step in his goal to create an independent research program on cardiovascular disease among African immigrants living in the U.S.